Victoria slides down onto the bench and inhales a deep breath of the park’s fresh air as she takes in the sparkling lake in front of her. She scolds her hands for trembling in nervous excitement and shakes them out. Her date with Megan the night before exceeded her expectations and she spent all of her lunch hour today on the phone with her best friend Mario. She recounted each detail to him to make sure the connection she felt wasn’t just in her head.

“Wow, Vic,” he interrupted after a few minutes of her vivid descriptions, “I can actually feel you glowing through the phone right now!” He had always been Victoria’s biggest cheerleader. “Yes, based on her suggestion you meet again today, it sounds like the interest was mutual.”

Victoria breathed a sigh of relief, “Okay phew, thanks. Anyway, sorry for rambling on about this. How are you?”

“I’m fine, but please be careful,” Mario warned her in his usual big-brother protective tone. “Sometimes things don’t work out and I don’t want you to be crushed again.” 

“I know, I’ll try not to get my hopes up too high.” Her voice caught in her throat as she recalled the last time her heart had been torn to pieces and Mario had helped her put them back together.

Now she checks the time and sees it’s still five minutes before Megan is supposed to meet her at this bench for an evening walk around the lake. She pictures her smiling face and how much they laughed together last night. They were able to break through the first-date pleasantries quickly and jump into exchanging stories from their lives. Megan shared about her awkward misunderstandings with a coworker that week and showed Victoria their passive aggressive email exchange. When Megan asked Victoria about the most memorable time of her life so far, Victoria felt her heart open as she explained her trip to Barcelona with her brother years ago, and how much fun they had exploring the city. It was partially a trip in celebration of Victoria’s coming out. Megan’s eyes widened in amazement at this, and Victoria couldn’t hide her grin. 

“I should have known he would be supportive about it, but that was really next-level. I’m so lucky to have him in my life, especially with my relationship with my parents not being the same since.” Victoria could feel Megan’s full attention on her and knew she was absorbing every word. 

Megan snaps her helmet straps under her chin and walks her bike out of the garage. Her eyes squint and the corner of her mouth twitches as she thinks back on her date with Victoria last night. What a laugh that woman has! Megan feels her stomach clench on the verge of a giggle just thinking about that glorious sound following her story about her grumpy coworker. She could feel Megan’s full attention on her and enjoyed listening to her stories as well. How sweet to be so close with her brother, and the fact that they traveled to Spain together as adults was telling. As an only child, Megan would never experience that type of connection. She shakes her head to stop the thoughts of meeting Victoria’s brother one day. Too soon. 

The weather is perfect and the cool breeze means Megan doesn’t have to worry about getting too sweaty during her bike ride to the park. She tilts her head back and takes in the vast blue sky above her. The ride from her house is only three miles and it’s nearly a straight shot down the main road bordering the park. While the speed limit is higher than she’d like and the bike lane is narrow, it’s usually quiet after rush hour, so she’s able to pedal slowly and take in the sounds of the birds around her. She can hear them rooting for her, wishing her a second date as memorable as the first.

A few miles away, Aaron slaps his cheek to stay alert. He’s toward the end of the eight-hour mark of his shift but he’s too far behind schedule for a break. He knows he can make it through these last twenty miles to get to his destination. He takes a sip of his energy drink and changes the radio station to something upbeat. He thinks of his daughter and their fight last night. 

“I just don’t understand why you have to drive those stupid trucks and be gone all the time,” she shouted. 

“I’m sorry, I wish I didn’t have to miss the play but I need to work. You know I’d be there tomorrow if it were up to me,” he responded with a sigh. 

Aaron hates missing so much of her life, but he doesn’t have a lot of options. He checks the rearview mirror and tries singing along with the radio, but he doesn’t know this song well enough. He’s pretty sure his daughter knows it and thinks about how this is just another way he’s a disappointment to her. He wants to be a better father but his shifts are long and he’s often out on the road during her school functions. His eyelids droop as he tries to focus on the road ahead of him.

Victoria checks the time again. How has it only been four minutes? She’s not late, so there’s no reason to think Megan’s changed her mind already, she thinks as she dusts off the seat next to her on the bench. Victoria hasn’t been stood up on a date before, but only because she’s been on so few. She hadn’t been comfortable enough in high school to come out to anyone but Mario, and when everyone assumed they were dating with how much time they spent together, they didn’t correct the confusion. Luckily Mario understood and didn’t mind playing along until she felt ready to tell her family the truth. During that time, he had been in a long-distance relationship with a girl most people didn’t know about, so being Victoria’s pretend boyfriend wasn’t a big deal to him. She had been in a serious relationship throughout college but it ended in a disaster and she decided to just focus on dance and building her studio after that. 

Victoria shifts her mind to her latest piece of choreography to distract herself from the anticipation of Megan’s arrival. She hears the beat of the song in her head as her feet start making micromovements of the steps. She can’t help but straighten her posture as she visualizes her upcoming solo performance. Then she imagines teaching Megan to dance and her stomach flutters. 

“You’re a dancer?” Megan’s eyebrows jumped in delighted surprise the night before when Victoria mentioned her studio and the routine she was working on this week. She couldn’t help but blush in response, as her hand swatted the air. “Yeah, I’m not the best but I love it. Teaching and seeing my students grow as dancers has become my oxygen. I don’t know how to live without it now.” 

Megan’s eyes sparkled at this, then she closed them in embarrassment. “Wow, it’s incredible you get to do what you love. I just work a random desk job that pays the bills.”

“Don’t be too jealous,” Victoria responded with a wink. “Your job probably comes with stability and insurance, which is nothing to scoff at.” 

“True! I know I should be grateful. But tell me more about your studio.”

Victoria sat up a little taller as she explained the upcoming showcase and the routine she’s working on for it. Her hands formed different elegant shapes as she described key moments in her solo. Megan had leaned in to soak up every bit of energy radiating off of Victoria. The ice in their drinks melted as they both forgot about the world around them.

Megan’s skin soaks in the setting sun as she thinks about Victoria’s hands. They were dancers' hands and they made beautiful shapes when she talked about her routine. Megan thinks about her clumsy left feet and wonders if that’s something Victoria could fix. She feels a shiver of excitement run up her spine with these thoughts. She also thinks about photographing those hands, and the rest of Victoria as she danced. Megan always saw her photography as just a fun hobby, but the way Victoria had turned her art into a career was inspiring. She hasn’t tried photographing people in motion like that before and this upcoming showcase could give her some great practice. She approaches the park entrance and closes her eyes for a second, imagining everything she could capture with her camera. When she opens them she sees a looming 18-wheeler in front of her and the glare of the setting sun bounces off the windshield, blinding her.

Aaron’s head nods forward and then jerks back just in time to see the woman on the bike in front of him. Her mouth opens in horror as his truck barrels toward her. 

Victoria’s palms start to sweat as she sees it’s now two minutes past the time they were supposed to meet. Her breath catches in her throat as she turns around to scan the park for Megan. Come on, please show up. There’s so much more I want to tell you.

May 23, 2020 01:06

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